Monday, August 19, 2013

CrocLog Podcast Episode 14

Ok, I admit, it's been a while. The last CrocLog Podcast was back in December, so it's been over eight months since the last episode. It's been difficult to find the time to record podcasts since the last one, not least due to family circumstances. Still, despite feeling really quite ill and Brandon feeling really quite tired, we managed to record Episode 14 back in June. I'm now back from a trip to Botswana, and so I've been able to put the finishing touches to Brandon's editing, and here it is at last. I'd like to think we can get back onto a reasonable schedule from now on.

In this episode we don't interview anyone, but you do get to hear us at our worst! Apologies for sounding half-dead, but it's better than being any more dead than that. Brandon and I have a good chat though about the recent Crocodile Specialist Group meeting that took place in Sri Lanka in May, we talk about Lolong's death, discuss the challenges in transporting giant crocodiles overseas, and Brandon brings us up to date on crocodile attacks and the progress of the attack database.

Links to the podcast below:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

You can carry the entire Chinese alligator genome on a USB stick

So Zhejiang University scientists have finally sequenced the entire genome for the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis). This is a pretty big deal, and the first fully published genome for any crocodilian. Amazingly, the entire genome is a "mere" 2.3 Gb of data, enough to fit onto a cheap USB stick, or perhaps on your phone.

Why is sequencing entire genomes important? Well, the genome contains all the instructions on how to build and operate a Chinese alligator, with all of its accrued evolutionary innovations over hundreds of millions of years, everything that makes this species both remarkable and unique. It's all there, all we have to do now is figure out which instructions do what. The team behind this have already identified several interesting "subroutines", such as modifications made to haemoglobin to increase oxygen carrying capacity, genes responsible for immunity and the function of antimicrobial peptides that give their immune system such potency, and many clues to their evolutionary history. It feels a little like hacking an operating system, except one that's considerably more complex than Windows (and is far less prone to crashing). Besides, it represents another opportunity to point out just how incredible these creatures actually are.

I look forward to being able to upload the genome into an artificial life simulator on my PC to recreate a digital Alligator sinensis. Maybe not in 2013, but I'm sure it's coming.

Here's the full paper published in Nature: